A GRANDMOTHER is fighting for the care of her two grandchildren after the Department of Child Safety told her she is too old at 68 to look after them.
As the Federal Government pushes the case for older workers to stay in the workforce longer, Marlene Baker, who lives west of Brisbane, is restricted to once-a-month weekend visits with her grandchildren who live 100km away in foster care.
The decision comes despite no age limit for carers and the shortfall of foster parents soaring to 500.
Grandparents account for one in five foster parents in Queensland but the department has ruled Mrs Baker and her 80-year-old husband Reginald are unfit to care for the children, aged 2 and 4.
The ruling follows Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s plan to lift the retirement age to 67.
Mrs Baker admits she has some health issues but claims she is well enough to care for the children.
“I have already proven I can care for them. I do all the cooking, I drive, I clean my house,” she said.
The two children have spent most of their lives living with their grandparents and their 35-year-old aunt.
But last November the aunt, who was the legal kinship carer, told the department she could no longer cope with the responsibility.
The department immediately moved the children into foster care, 100km away, despite Mrs Baker’s willingness to continue to care for them.
Mrs Baker described the separation from her grandchildren as “heartbreaking”, compounded by the fact she is only allowed one phone call a week at 9am on Saturdays.
“This is their home. This is where they want to be,” she said. “Every time they come here, they beg me to let them stay. They have big tears running down their cheeks.
“How do you tell a four-year-old that it’s not you that doesn’t want them, it’s the department?”
The siblings have never lived with their biological parents, who were considered unfit to care for their children.
Mrs Baker first applied to become a kinship carer for her four-year-old grandson, when he was born.
“They did a house inspection, I had a medical, I got a blue card and in the end I was told I was too old – I was 64 then,” Mrs Baker said.
The boy spent a year in foster care, until the aunt became his carer and also assumed care of his sister when she was born.
For most of this time, the three lived with the Bakers, and Mrs Baker was their main carer.
The Bakers have nine children, 16 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Mrs Baker described the department’s actions as “heavy handed”.
At the very least she would like more access to the children.
“If I can’t have them, why can’t I see them more often, take them on holidays, why can’t they be in foster care nearby, so I can drop in and see them often like a normal grandmother?” she asked.
Independent MP Dorothy Pratt said the Bakers were victims of time-poor social workers, and their story was not an isolated case.
“If grandparents are capable of caring for a child they should be the first choice,” she said.
“There is not enough time put in to make appropriate choices and consider what is best for the child and the family.”
A spokeswoman for Child Safety Minister Phil Reeves said the priority was to provide children with “a safe and loving home environment”.
“The department always prefers to place children with family if possible,” she said.
“But every application must be assessed with absolute rigour to ensure the child’s best interests are upheld.”
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